Wish You Were Here.

The PastMastery London Street display with several miniature dummy boards

So here we are, standing outside a wonderful newly built town house in, let’s say -Kensington. It’s made of bricks which have been faced with stone and is all white, new and sparkly! It won’t be long before the coal smoke from thousands of house hold fires will blacken the pristine frontage and the mud and debris from the unmade road surface will splatter the face with specks and allow pollution to eat away the stone. But that is for the future. Now, we are happy to note, it all looks wonderfully clean and inviting. There are steps up to a rather imposing front door.

Aha! a servant has opened it for us. He is rather smart and quite a beefy chap. Quite fanciable really…..if only we were allowed to fraternise with the underclasses…. 😉 Ah but we are at a masquerade. The tickets are reasonably priced and anyone can afford them. Here we can rub shoulders with all classes creating a wonderful frisson of the unknown, where one’s economic status is not to be automatically revealed by dress or conduct.

The young man in livery V&A museum c.1745

We draw our masquerade domino cloak around us to hide our costume and we pull our ‘Bahoo’ hood around our face and flutter our fan a little just to flirt a trifle with the servant in livery. The domino costume of the 18th century, represents adventure, conspiracy,  intrigue and mystery, four components that are an essential ingredient of the masquerade atmosphere. The language of the fan is known to both men and women….now…”leave me alone – I am unattainable” to ” yes…. I like the look of you….come closer”!

The domino cloak and mask

As I said he is a hulking chappie with broad shoulders and a rather flat nose ( maybe broken at one time ). I expect he is not only a hallway porter but a  footman/ bodyguard with the task of keeping disorderly folk out of the house. You wouldn’t wish to tackle him actually; he looks a bit of a bruiser!

The masquerade of the eighteenth-century has, as we might expect, loud and fervent opposition from certain quarters. The anti-masquerade movement is led mostly by churchmen, pamphleteers ( those who write little diatribes on every vice ) and stuffy old newspaper men who cling to the belief that the masquerade is a vile threat to English moral society. There are always people who will decry anything that gives others pleasure aren’t there? 😉

We shall take no notice and we shall whisk into the ballroom and engage who ever takes our fancy.

Aha..here is a Pierrot…accompanied by a Harlequin in his multicoloured tatters; the half mask upon his face and the round hat on his head. Shall we flutter our eyelashes and prettily pout at him over our fan.

Arlecchino... a modern dummy board from Italy

The sexual freedom that women might be exposed to at the masquerade, is often written about by detractors, as an example of the decline of English morality, the greatest peril of the masquerade.  It is dangerous,  they say, for respectable females, even those escorted by trusted male relatives, to engage in the “lude and explicit” multitude of the masquerade ( T. Castle: The  Masquerade and Civilisation p. 43 ) The anti-masquerade party equates such functions with the licentiousness of an unbridled  sexual act.  ( Crumbs!) The same double standard of contemporary culture about male and female sexuality transfers itself to the masquerade. Attendance by females is actually considered a criminal offence, and though it isn’t exactly encouraged, male attendance is tolerated. You can’t take your wife, your sister or your cousin…just in case your mistress might be there. PAH!

Well…we don’t care! It’s fun and because it’s considered a bit risqué…it’s even more fun.

Who shall we engage in conversation?

There is we know, a specific code for verbal behavior at Masquerades. When masked party goers speak to one another, they employ pre -arranged phrases such as “I know you” or “Do you know me “in order to start up a conversation? These rules are important. They establish some order in  an otherwise chaotic environment. We shall remove our mask after the supper meal or after the midnight hour, when we shall all know with whom we have been dallying  and the old order shall be re- imposed.

I am going to approach this fine fellow…. dressed as a Harlequin, a character from the Commedia dell’arte.

He is rather dashing and trim in his tight costume.

Dummy board of a Harlequin. 19th c. made of needlepoint.

Oh bother! The voice betrays him ! To my ” Do you know me?” he replies ” I know you” and I find it’s my brother Ian……  😦  I flutter my fan in annoyance… and  turn away.

Let’s have a look around and see who we can spot. Who on earth does she think she is in her ridiculous hat?

German dummy board possibly 18th c. private collection

And this rogue…..his owl is rather sweet though.

Dummy board early 18th c. Chateau de Malle France

This one looks like a right kill joy!

German? possibly 17th but more likely 18th c. private collection in Italy.

Ah….. that’s better. Let’s try this handsome fellow! We shall go forth to dance and then have a little supper. And then I shall see what I have caught.

Ah goodness me! Apollo!

You want to know what is underneath my  domino cloak don’t you…what my costume is…? I won’t keep you in suspense.

Absolutely nothing! Durer, part of Adam and Eve

Yes…. it was possible to go to a masquerade as Eve !  🙂

Thanks to:


for help with this post.

6 Responses to “Wish You Were Here.”

  1. Sally Says:

    I am loving this London trip Sue – all my old growing up places in Kensington….could we go to Chelsea next, please?

    Sally, Conservatrix of the Cats’ Whiskers and Taker of the Blame
    ABC with Honours P.I. A.S. Office#13 GSOLFOT


    http://www.d-a-m-e.com http://www.gsolfot.com

  2. Nina Says:

    Lovely dummy boards — they’re so varied, aren’t they? I’m just learning about them, but I’m already captivated.

    And I would have picked the servant, too 🙂

  3. pastmastery Says:

    Of course we can go to Chelsea, Sally…watch out for a post called All the King’s men! Coming soon.
    I truly don’t think there is a subject that someone in history hasn’t made a dummy board of, Nina. You can make up quite a few tales and illustrate them with figures quite easily!
    Sue…the naked one 😉

  4. julie Says:

    loved this post Sue, the masquerade is a theme I return to often with my dolls, its just irresistable !
    julie xx

  5. pastmastery Says:

    Like I said Julie… I would have been there, in those frocks ( No I wouldn’t have been seen naked really!) fluttering my fan..I’m really a girl out of her age!


  6. Cuckoo’s Nest « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] It was rather chilly in that costume frankly! see Wish You Were Here […]

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